Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Bah, Humbug

In the spirit of the holidays, I would like to alert management as to which rules I have instructed my employees to disregard:

1.) No food. The potluck and cookie exchange will be between 11am and 2pm, and employees are strongly encouraged to eat, because, well, it makes them happy. I really don't care what the janitor thinks.

2.) No websurfing. I would like to cordially invite whichever human resource flunky thought this was a good idea to cram this fistful of candy canes up their bum. You might dislodge the stick. Merry Christmas.

3.) No Christmas lights. The individuals who gingerly asked if they were able to put up Christmas decorations were initially told that their lights were a fire hazard. Well, the other departments do it and the call center shouldn't be different. Plus, a nice fire would be pretty festive.

4.) No employee-leader gift giving. You never mind when I give you a present at the holidays, so I'm joining the Secret Santa exchange and that's that.

5.) Dress code. Unless they're exposing themselves or offending their neighbors (because I don't have a single outfit to testify in), I don't care, and you shouldn't either. If they want to be wearing 1,000 flashing light pins that have dancing reindeer on them, I'm fine unless the reindeer have hardons or something... in which case I want to see those pins in the conference room only so we can have a laugh away from the idiots who get offended by stuff like that.

Happy holidays, team!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

A New Hope

Well, with my new department, I had very high hopes. I came in with a new group of people and, for a variety of reasons, I thought these guys would be a lot better. For one thing, this project is a lot better to work on -- no selling aspects to it, which attracts better people.

I found myself sitting idly with the new people, working on an e-mail. One loud conversation struck me, and I heard:

"Yeah, this guy was sent to jail for three months for incest. Ridiculous!"

I thought to myself, yeah, that is ridiculous! Sure, I think incest is pretty gross, but as long as you're taking precautions, why should you be stopped if you're consenting adults? Isn't three months in jail pretty excessive for (non-rape, non-pedophilic) sex? It's nice to have another progressive person around here; so many people are enthused with President Bush because he "prays to God", or whatever. Oh, how I felt good to think that maybe some of this new group wouldn't say things like "Democrats made it illegal to pray in school!", because I have to shove my fist in my mouth to avoid saying what I really think.

Then, I heard her finish her statement:

"I can't believe it. It should have been life."

Saturday, November 12, 2005

I've been a bad blogger

Yes, I disappeared. Sorry about that. I actually now have a different position, though still supervising in a new call center. I'm happier, but busier. I'm sure more stories will come in the new job.

I wasn't too sad to leave. While things were improving, I was surrounded by supervisors who simply didn't care. I felt like I was shouldering the burden for everyone. It angered me that everyone's employees came to me with their affairs simply because they knew I would help them or find out the answer to a question. It was hard to not be there, sometimes -- one time when I was out at lunch, an agent decided to approach one of these other sups for help. One in particular was very well known for giving them the brush off -- even though she would be surfing the 'net, or talking with another supervisor.

Many people in my group were transferred to that same supervisor when I left. A lot of my good people were in tears or very upset because they were going back to her and didn't want to go. I was sad about it, but I encouraged them to go to management and say how they felt. I'd taken my issues with that person to management before, and never gotten them to do anything.

There's a point where you just throw up your hands and say, "It's enough." I can't save the world and I can't fix the problems because my hands are tied. I applied for another position, and got it. I was disappointed that nobody seemed to really care when I left the department, but oh well. I'm sure they see me as a meddler, and I don't care. Ultimately, I tried to make the company successful and helped the good employees better themselves. I have no regrets, but I'll be curious to find out how things go without me. I suspect one or more of the newer supervisors will try to fill my place, and end up getting frustrated when they're expected to do more work, and take on greater burdens, while certain others fake their way through it.

I guess all that I can say is that I'm sure I'll still have problems -- hell, it's still a call center -- but at least they will be NEW problems.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Your Call Is Not Important To Us

Customer service costs, folks. It's not free. While you might not be paying, it is quite expensive to have customer support by phone -- over a dollar a minute is a fair going rate for basic, non-technical help.

This is a hint: if you're not a customer, don't call. We really don't want to talk to you. Furthermore, there is nothing that we can do for you.

This shout-out goes, in particular, to:

Opportunists. We do not have marketing available by phone through our customer service number. This is for good reason as we get dozens of calls a week through customer service from people asking for the marketing department, because they want a piece of the pie.

On one end of the spectrum, we have the people who want to distribute our product. Sound good? No. These are just random individuals who want to start selling our stuff on the street. Our company only sells their own products because they care about quality. We are not interested in you selling our product in Korea if you are just some random guy who goes to Korea on occasion and your family owns a tea house.

On the other end, we have simple beggars. I can understand the charities, but they generally have the sense to call corporate if they're legit. No, these are people who want our major company to purchase a spot on their go-kart for advertising purposes. It's a random individual who wants free product to distribute to their friends for "free advertising".

You know, guys, here's a clue: if you don't know how to reach our marketing department, you probably shouldn't be talk to them. Hint: they don't take phone calls from unknowns. Send it in writing, we'll have a good laugh and pass it to them so they can toss it, though, if you really insist.

The window shoppers. We sell products by mail order. There will be people who will call and ask about Every. Single. Product. We. Sell. for forty-five minutes (if we let them) and then never buy anything. We have a catalog, people! These people get upset when, after twenty minutes of discussing products, we offer to send them literature. They scoff and hem and haw and threaten to take the $5 order they were really considering. Well, you know what? You just cost the company five times that with your call. Go away.

The scammers. We are pretty good at detecting these, but we usually give people a few chances. After that, you get blacklisted.

Here's the deal: we keep a record of every transaction we do in the system. If you've bought something, you're in there. We do occasionally give out freebies to good customers, or when things go bad. If you're not a customer, you are not getting something for free - no matter how much you beg, threaten, plead, or cry. Don't tell me you forgot your zip code. We have other ways of looking up accounts and you'll look pretty silly if you don't know any of them. "Oh, my friend ordered, and I don't know his address." That's nice. Your friend can call then. If you don't know his address, then you probably shouldn't be calling on his behalf.

"I'll buy lots of product if you send this one free!" Yeah, I doubt it. We have a lenient return policy; buy it, if you don't like it, return it. Hell, I'd even ship it for free just to shut you up, if you pay up front. Oh, no money in the bank this week? Big surprise.

When someone gets blacklisted, I love the amount of whining and screaming. The best part is they always threaten to take their business elsewhere. Guess what, kids. We've already forced you to take your business elsewhere. We will not do business with you.

The insane. There are truly random and bizarre callers. Usually, they're just people screaming and raving until, fifteen minutes later, we realize that they think we're the phone company and they will not be "fooled" into thinking otherwise because they did not call the wrong number, and they know this in their very soul. (Note to my employees: Please do not transfer these calls to me.) Sometimes they know who they're talking to, because they seem to have found out about the mind-control conspiracy... but perhaps I've said too much.

To be fair, we do have actual customers who are also insane. They do tend to be only borderline profitable at best, because they call us all the time, often telling us different information from day to day. (One month, it's "I never ordered this!" and the next it's "Why did you cancel? I wanted this! I didn't cancel it!") I guess I can't blame them, because at least they buy something.

The obscene. Imagine my surprise when I pull a call and the guy's first question to the agent is "What are you wearing?" Look, there are perfectly good numbers for that out there. Please do not make my employee sit through your personal fantasy. I have people working for me that have been physically and/or sexually abused by men, including members of their own family. I have emotionally fragile and devoutly religious individuals as well. They do not need to hear about your cock, mmkay? They don't make enough money to put up with that, and even though they will eventually hang up on you, it's not before your call is burned into their brain. Do you want to make a poor young girl struggling to make ends meet unhappy? No? Then buy some goddamn porn for chrissakes!

The celebrity fanboys and fangirls. I know we have celebrity spokespeople. They are not available by calling customer service. Really. Stop calling. Seriously, who expects major (or even minor) stars of stage and screen to be available by calling customer service of a product they happen to endorse? I have literally had people freak out because they couldn't speak to them right then. WELCOME TO PLANET EARTH, JACKASS.

"Hello, Pepsi? I'd like to talk to Britney Spears, is she in? No? How about tomorrow? Oh. That's fine, please just send me to her voice mail, so she can call me back. I'm such a big fan! What? You mean I bought this fucking Pepsi and I can't even talk to Britney? Transfer me to her home phone right now, I'm sure she would be VERY unhappy to hear about this terrible service! GRRR! Fine, FUCK YOU and FUCK BRITNEY TOO!!"

Most of these people never buy anything. I don't think they actually have any money. I guess I should have put them under "insane", but that's charitable. These people aren't sick, they actually choose to be obsessed with some random stranger.


So, in conclusion: I will grit my teeth and be nice if, and only if, you have earned the right. If you're just a barnacle on for the ride, I will scrape you off and my bosses will thank me for it. Thank you for calling! Please don't call us again soon!

Sunday, July 31, 2005

The circle of life

Stepping back and looking at my time as a supervisor, I can see a definite cycle in how I'm managed by The Powers That Be. We're always trying to change, to respond, to make things better -- but, much like a dog tied to a tree, no matter how fast we run around in a circle, we're not making any progress. If anything, the leash just keeps getting shorter.

The cycle seems go something like this:

Step One: The Changing of the Guard. Massive management changes or policy changes occur. Chaos ensues. A lot of meetings are held, pep-talks are given, and reams of memos are issued. The older employees grumble about how all of the changes are stupid. They're wrong, of course. Only most of the changes are stupid. Random chance dictates we're likely to at least one thing right.

Step Two: The Big Squeeze. Why aren't we making money? How can we cut spending but increase earnings? Things start to get strict and mean -- perform, or die. To save money, the management always decides to squeeze the employees by cutting spending on compensation, building improvements and basic maintenance, proper amounts of training and enough supervision. All the while, there is a drunken orgy of spending elsewhere, wasting absurd amounts on useless things -- consultants, expensive travel to "train" managers elsewhere, and crackpot theories from people who have never worked in a call center. Meanwhile, management contends that they key is to focus on "let's treat our people better!" and squeezing supervisors to have no morale loss from the budget cuts by giving us stress balls for our whole team. "This should motivate everyone! So why aren't they working twice as hard as last month?"

Step Three: Truth and Consequences. Like waking up next to an ugly stranger after a night of heavy drinking, we feel regret and horror when we see the all too apparent flaws in our hastily planned strategies. We see many of the programs that we spent so much time and effort on fall apart because of day-to-day issues that dominate our workload. Due to lack of investment in operations, nobody is available to mess with all of the actual feedback that the expensive consultants gave us, and it fades to a distant memory. Employees start leaving in droves because of all of the various offenses they've endured during the process. We can't be bothered to spend enough time (or, really, money) on the hiring process, so we start to bring in people who have no business with any type of employment. This scares or insults our existing staff -- like rats fleeing a sinking ship, they leave without notice or regard. Meanwhile, the supervisors are being squeezed to solve the problem; having no means, the supervisors generally start to beg people to stay or give in to demands, and lose authority. The quality of the work suffers, and productivity slumps back from its brief surge. The supervisors are looking around saying "how did this person get hired?" and wondering what happened to the center, because they've been too busy following orders to pay attention.

Step Four: Crisis. Do something! Do anything! Just try to cork the hole in the boat! We're just trying to stay afloat and make it through the day, and the frantic decisions made to keep us going rankle and backfire. People are walking around with angry faces or, worse, silent resignation and nameless dread. The calls never seem to stop and we simply don't have the staff to handle them; the remaining dregs don't really care if we sink, but we don't fire anyone because we can't afford to. Management starts to get desperate and cruel until, finally, they're gone too. The corporate office is starting to breathe down the back of our necks and nobody knows what is going to happen. The supervisors, burned out and frustrated, are pressed for ideas and then blissfully ignored, and we hire a bunch of new management that will Fix Everything!

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Apathy

I've been feeling pretty burned out in my job lately. It's tough to go in every day and face the problems that just keep getting piled up. It just seems that every day, it gets worse. My team has reached a record high in number of CSRs reporting to me, we have more tasks than ever assigned to us, summer vacations (for everyone else) have made us even more short-staffed than ever, and it just seems that I have one nightmare after another. One day, an agent wants to tell me about which orifice they're bleeding out of and how they can't afford surgery; another, I have to explain to a earnestly confused individual that screaming at a customer is never okay.

I feel like a hypocrite because, truth be told, I could be working harder. It's just hard to really care. I just can't look at another sighing, eye-rolling little twit who is nodding to anything that will get them through their terrible performance evaluation as quickly as possible. Why am I wasting my time?

Instead, I've been blissfully faking doing what I am supposed to be doing (coachings for individuals that don't care) and spending more time doing career planning and assistance for people who are actually not bleeding sores on the ass of humanity. There are some people for whom working for my corporation is a wonderful thing, compared to the seething chaos in their personal lives. Besides which, I try to shield my agents from the worst of it. As long as someone is legitimately trying to do a good job, I am very supportive and friendly, and I try to make each day pleasant for them.

Interestingly enough, while I don't think the brass would think so, I feel that this has been one of my most productive periods. I'm doing less running around, but I see the faces of my best agents and I know they're happier than before. I guess I really don't care if the management likes it or not; all of my futile tilting-at-windmills didn't achieve anything anyway, and this way I'm at least keeping the good ones. The ones that don't care -- well, it's just my mission to get rid of them. If you don't care to do even the bare minimum, then I don't care to have you on my team, and I don't care to help you get paid for sucking.

I feel a strange lassitude about the situation. My anger and rage has started to even out to general depression and despair about management, but genuine pleasure as well in dealing with my core group. I guess, now that I think about it, I really don't feel bad at all. I've gotten hugged this week, I've been told that I was the best boss someone ever had, I've been told that I've made this job better than anything else in their life for someone, and I'm happy about that. I guess I've found that little spark that made me like being a supervisor to begin with.

So, you know what? I'll always get mad about the stupid corporate policies, ridiculous management types who can't walk the talk, useless employees that I can never seem to get permission to fire, and endless turnover. I may move to another job. But, in a moment of extreme anger, I took a step back and realized that I need to find happiness in what I'm doing -- the "zen of supervising", if you will.

That's what I try to tell myself, anyway. Stress, it'll kill you.

Monday, July 11, 2005

How to invest in your people

The powers that be have decided that Priority One in getting us out of our slump (high attrition, terrible quality, makin's no money) is to Put People First. This included such earthshattering edicts as "Treat your employees like real people!" and "Make sure to talk to your people like people."

Step one in achieving this plan? Well, we might have a big morale-boosting event; we might try to poll the employees for what we can improve; or perhaps we could do manager/CSR meetings to find out what would help.

Any of those would make sense. But, what's this? A memo from the new management?

Ah. Apparently we are to strictly enforce a bunch of little rules about personal conduct on site, because this way we will tightly enforce professionalism. Mind you, when these rules didn't exist, we didn't have perfect professionalism, but for reasons utterly related to these stupid rules. In addition, there are petty new rules specifically for supervisors. Yes, our tiny little pool of overtaxed supervisors, still trying to hang on despite several losses of staff and persistent openings that never seemed to get filled, get to follow specific rules intended to make us appear "separate and distinguishable" from the staff. Heaven forfend we look like the rabble.

Yeah. Put people first -- after all, the management are people -- and we should spend our time not coaching or developing people, but enforcing their little pet peeves.

I can see that we're really turning this company around.